Dear Unpaid Workers…You are appreciated…

My Aiga bubble
One of the first rap songs I ever memorised was Tupac Shakur’s “Dear Mama”. It’s a carpool favourite, as soon as it plays through the speaker, I’m rapping along word for word – because it instantly triggers feelings of gratitude – childhood memories that have crossed over to my adult life – especially in this bubble.

It’s day seven of lock down in New Zealand and after the rush of last week’s announcements and the pace in which everything has happened, I’m still trying to make sense of what it means to be in lockdown and why, even with everything that I know – I still feel a bit anxious.

Although the world has known pandemics before, Covid-19 is the most prominent pandemic in the era of social media and live streaming.  The mass flood of “information” (where accurate information is easily lost through the “threads” of inaccurate information) has contributed to the panic, and fear across the Moana and my own feelings of anxiety. So, today I decided to spend less time reading up on what’s happening around the world, and more time reflecting on what it has taken to keep my “bubble” in order during the past five days. 

Unpaid work

A year ago, I was asked to write a piece for the Ministry of Women on unpaid work or volunteering. At the time I saw it as an opportunity to highlight the contribution “unpaid work” made to social capital – a thread found in the New Zealand well-being budget and something our Pasifika communities are rich in. 

According to Statistics New Zealand, unpaid work within the household includes “household work, childcare and caring for another member of the household who is ill or has a disability.” When “redefining unpaid work through the eyes of a ta’ahine Tonga” I argued that as Pasifika, these are things that are difficult to measure because we do not view the categories that fall under “unpaid work” as work.  These activities are our fatongia (duty) fuelled by the ‘ofa (love) and values that make us who we are as Pasifika.

In a report published in 2018 titled “Where There is a Will – encouraging Policy makers to value unpaid work on average women in New Zealand spent 4 hours and 20 minutes a day on unpaid labour, with Maori and Pacific women carrying out more childcare than other ethnicities. Hours that I estimate have grown exponentially since going into alert level 4. In my bubble, I am becoming more aware of the contribution of unpaid work (fatongia) in keeping the household in order.

On a day to day basis my mother already does all of the unpaid work listed by Statistics New Zealand, however since lock down her unpaid “task list” has increased.

  • She has become a linguist, teaching her grandchildren proper Tongan pronunciation through the teaching of Bible verses and Tongan songs. Something we never really had time for prior to lock down.
  • She has gone from being the principal of the household to a home-based teacher as well, where we are reminded to work together to help those who are in Primary School continue to build their numeracy and literacy skills.
  • Within five days she has learnt how to be more digitally savvy, finding new mediums (like Zoom) to stay connected with family, and those who are categorised as “most vulnerable.” In some ways we are more connected now than ever, despite the physical distancing.
  • We have more family time around the table where we laugh and reminisce on childhood memories with sentences beginning with “… do you remember when?” and 
  • Every evening at 7pm we are called into our prayer room for family prayer where we go around (across three generations) and say what we are grateful for.

If staying at home saves lives, then consider the contribution of our unpaid workers.  Theirs is a significant undertaking and although it has been recognised as being valuable, it has not yet been quantified or acknowledged within the accounting frameworks of our country. Something I hope will change in the future.

Also, consider those who will be dealing with the economic implications of COVID-19 and job uncertainty.  We all have a role to play in helping them get on their feet, whether it be by offering words of kindness or being a little bit more patient. So, as you continue on your own journey during lock down – here are some things we can ALL do in our bubbles:

  1. Take time to check in and connect within your bubble;

  2. Share the household load with each other; AND

  3. Let each other know – “you are appreciated.”

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